Transition and uncertainty in the Phoenix arts district


Arizona is a fine place for climate and landscape, but the big-city points of interest are dispersed. Metro Phoenix has a slightly larger population (3.3 million) than Metro Vancouver with 10 times the geographic area. Development rambles across  low-rise, single-use residential and industrial tracts, often walled and sometimes gated in the newer zones, carved up by broad, high-speed arterial roads.

At the historic heart of the region, “downtown Phoenix appeared [in 2012] as one of the top results in a Google search for Arizona ghost towns.” The city government is working to shift this perception, accelerating a long-standing effort to create livable neighbourhoods on the downtown perimeter, especially around Roosevelt Row, a modest cluster of art galleries and cafes. Output from the City includes area design guidelines, the establishment of an Economic Development Commission to build a Roosevelt Row brand, and a survey-based report from the Commission on community priorities. With new housing, a newish rapid transit line with an Arts District stop, and an intensive program of public events, the American Planning Association was moved in 2015 to declare Roosevelt Row one of America’s “great places.” Continue reading

Rapid transit and politics in Republican Arizona

Arizona has a reputation as one of the most conservative states in the star-spangled republic.  However, the three-year-old Light Rail system in Metro Phoenix points out the persistent diversity on the Arizona political scene.

Light rail runs from the edge of Mesa into central Phoenix, serving university campuses, the international airport, and the Phoenix cultural, entertainment and financial districts.  As of early 2012, it also ran through the heart of Democrat Metro Phoenix, crossing four of the five Phoenix-area electoral districts that were dominated by Democrats in the state House of Representatives — districts that provide close to half the Democrat strength in the state House.  One would almost conclude that Democrats (disproportionately Latinos, blacks, gays and young people) are drawn to transit-friendly areas.  [November 27, 2012: New maps, new state legislature.  The train crosses still crosses four state electoral districts, but the Democrats now hold five of the eight seats within the new boundaries.]  Continue reading


Suburban Phoenix, in the Sonoran desert, shows a repetitive development pattern: clusters of townhomes or detached homes, each cluster architecturally uniform, often walled or gated, strung out along wide, straight arterial streets.  Many through streets are generously planted with a variety of desert trees, but they’re motor vehicle routes all the same; the opportunity to escape into a pathway or laneway is rare, and many of the quieter side streets end in cul-de-sacs.

In the 1990s a landowning family in the municipality of Gilbert decided to try something slightly different: a development of diverse housing types and workplaces arranged around a small organic farm and a Christian school.  They boldly named it “Agritopia.” The 450 homes are now completed and occupied, and the farm produces food for the family-owned diner that attracts customers from across the region, and for other nearby cafes and markets. Continue reading